By Connie Adair
It was time for a lifestyle change. Colleen and Raideep Lal wanted to escape their high-pressure Toronto jobs, so they began to search for a new place to live. They spent two years examining their options, choosing points on a map based on climate. The Caribbean, Fiji and Tahiti are just a few of the warm climes they investigated. “We’re very methodical about things,” says Colleen. “We looked at our wants and needs, and looked at crime, taxation, political stability, medical care and education.”
They also wanted to integrate into the local culture, not live in an insular expat community. So after living and working in Toronto for 20 years, Winnipeg-born Colleen and Raideep moved to a semi-abandoned coffee farm in Boquete in north western Panama.
Boquete is known internationally for its coffee, says Colleen, who prior to moving says she had never even seen a coffee plant. The farm is now one of the area’s top-producing properties.
“My husband and I loved the farm but weren’t ready to retire and just farm coffee,” she says.
As chance would have it, they had the opportunity to purchase another farm (the first of five they would end up buying), about 15 minutes from their coffee farm.
“We looked at options, crazy ideas in terms of having goats and making goat cheese to vineyards but the market was changing drastically,” she says. “Boquete was the top second-home destination, but there wasn’t much to do here. My husband was a golfer and he met with a golf course architect who toured (the properties) and thought (a golf course community) was a solid choice.”
And that’s how Cielo Paraiso Residences was born. The development’s master plan includes estate home sites, duplex villas, golf condominiums and private residence club villas built around an 18-hole championship golf course.
“We took a different approach – rather than planning homes and then the golf course, we did it the other way around. We wanted to work with the natural conditions and landscape and ensure a Panamanian highland experience for the golfer, and create a destination golf course,” Colleen says.
The course was designed to preserve indigenous flora and wildlife habitat and to appeal to golfers of all skill levels. Cielo Paraiso is 1,010 meters above sea level and offers golfers views of Boquete’s natural landmarks, from the Baru Volcano to the Jaramillo and Talamanca mountain ranges to the Pacific Ocean.
The Agua Blanca River is west of the property and there are several creeks on the land. More than 10 fresh water springs provide Cielo Paraiso with potable water.
“Our goal with Cielo Paraiso was to create a course that blended seamlessly into the unique topography of the land,” says course architect J. Michael Poellot in a news release. “I sincerely believe that we have created one of the most visually stunning courses in all of Central/South America.”
Eight holes of the course opened in February (the rest is slated to open this August), marking the completion of the first phase of the 580-acre exclusive residential resort development.
Cielo Paraiso is a project of Toronto-based Gladstone Development, which has invested more than $20-million to develop Phase One. Thirty-four properties have sold, 11 homes have been built and a dozen are under construction.
Building sites ranging from three-quarters of an acre to more than two acres and with golf course and natural landscape views start at $150,000.
In Phase One, homes are required to have a minimum of 2,500 square feet, but “most homes are coming in between 4,000 and 5,000 square feet. The difference is that square footage in Canada is enclosed. In Boquete it includes terraces and garages,” Colleen says.
“I come home at the end of the day and open the doors to the terrace. I spend more time outside than inside, unless I’m cooking,” she says. “Outdoor living spaces are more luxurious than indoor spaces because everyone spends their time out there.”
Floor plans of the homes in the development reflect that difference. “Every single home built has at least one outdoor terrace and an outdoor fireplace. Several have pizza ovens.”
Cielo Paraiso is “pretty much divided into thirds, one third-residential development, one-third golf and hotel and one-third is staying as a natural reserve,” says Colleen. “We were fortunate to get the property. We’re using reclaimed pasture land for residential so there’s been no clear cutting.”
Recently, Phase 2 was introduced, offering approximately 1,800-square-foot completed and finished duplexes for $250,000.
The environment is a top priority. “We source international products, such as erosion mats and hydro mulch. We’re quite progressive in terms of how we do things and recommended architects have an energy-efficient way of doing things.”
As well, organic options for fertilizers are being investigated for the golf course and “we recycle as much as possible on the property,” she says.
Forbes magazine, USA Today and CBS Marketwatch have named Panama one of top second-home destinations in the world. Favourable tax benefits, value driven real estate, U.S. currency and its culture are among the drawing cards.
“We’re not building a development. We’re building a community, and a community includes all ages. (We want) to have kids playing tennis, a junior program for golf and flesh it out that way. The community has never been sold as a second home or retirement community. We’re seeing interest from Generation X, Y and Z,” says Colleen. “All Gen X needs is a laptop and a Blackberry and we can go anywhere and the price point is achievable.”
Just as when she and Raideep were looking for their new place to live, crime, medical care and education are important to buyers. The restricted access community has two private hospitals nearby and an international school recently opened.
Sadly, Riadeep Lal passed away last June. Colleen has taken over the project and Raideep’s brother, Sandeep Lal, is acting as consultant. Sandeep is proprietor of Metro Label, Canada’s largest label manufacturing company.
Cielo Paraiso Residences is co-operating with sales reps. Its website (www.boqueterealestate.com) is the best source for information, offering “everything agents need to make a presentation,” Colleen says. Three videos that talk about Panama, Boquete and its amenities (golf, walking trails, four clay tennis courts) and real estate will soon be added to the site.